“Think simple…reduce the whole of its parts into the simplest terms, getting back to first principles.”
-- Frank Lloyd Wright
It was quite an eventful end of the 2011-2012 season for Joel Ward. In one moment, he is the hero, the toast of the town, the player whose overtime goal in Game 7 of the Washington Capitals’ opening round series against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins propelled the Caps into the second round against the New York Rangers. Then, in Game 5 of that second round series, Ward was whistled for a double-minor high sticking penalty with 21.3 seconds left in regulation time and the Caps holding a 2-1 lead. The Rangers scored on both ends of the power play, tying the game with 6.6 seconds left in regulation, then winning it 1:35 into overtime, denying the Caps the opportunity to take a 3-2 games lead back home to Washington for Game 6. The Caps won Game 6 but lost the series in Game 7.
Then, in the off-season Ward had sports hernia surgery. One might be forgiven if Ward just wanted to play the simple sort of game in 2013 that does not get much in terms of notoriety, but yields dividends in the win column.
In a way the start to Ward’s 2013 season was a carbon copy of the start of his 2011-2012 season. Ward posted four goals in his first seven games of the 2013 season, besting his four goals in his first 12 games of the 2011-2012 season. Then, he went cold. Not “2011-2012 cold,” where he would go 25 consecutive games without a goal, but he did manage only four goals over his last 32 games of the season. His regular season ended early when he blocked a Sami Salo shot with his leg in a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 7th.
Ward is not a player who will drive offensive numbers. His role is more to chip in offense when the opportunities present themselves, to help keep bad things happening on defense, and to win physical battles in the corners and along the wall. In that respect you would have to say he did his job. Eight goals was not a lot, especially given his finish to the regular season, but it did tie Nicklas Backstrom for fifth among Capital forwards. It also represented what might have been a tie for his career best on a goals-per-82 game basis (17, tied with his 2008-2009 finish in Nashville). He also finished sixth among Capital forwards in assists.
Ward’s possession numbers ranked high on the club at 5-on-5. His raw on-ice Corsi value was third among 14 Caps forwards playing in at least 20 games, his on-ice Corsi value relative to his off-ice value fifth among that group of forwards. His plus-minus per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 was third among the Caps forwards, and only Eric Fehr had a better differential of plus-minus on-ice to plus-minus off-ice.
The plus-minus figures reflect solid defense, if not due solely to Ward, then at least in his presence. His goals-against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 was fifth best among Caps forwards playing in at least 20 games, as was his on-ice save percentage for.
Odd Ward Statistic… “112.” Joel Ward played in 111 games as a Capital without recording a game-winning goal. That streak ended on April 7th against Tampa Bay. His goal at 16:21 of the second period put the Caps ahead to stay in what would be a 4-2 win over the Lightning. It also was his last game of the regular season after he took that Sami Salo shot off his knee in the third period.
Game to Remember… January 27th vs. Buffalo. The Caps stubbed their toe early under their new coach, Adam Oates. They were 0-3-1 in their first four games of the 2013 season and wer coming off a tough 3-2 overtime loss to New Jersey. It did not look to be getting any better when the Buffalo Sabres scored first in their January 27th game at Verizon Center. However, with the clock winding down to four minutes left in the first period, Joel Ward beat Cody Hodgson to a loose puck in the Buffalo end as it was sliding toward the blue line. Ward kept the puck in and dumped to the right wing wall where Mike Ribeiro picked it up. Ribeiro sent the puck down to Jason Chimera at the goal line extended, from where Chimera one-timed the puck to the crease. Goalie Ryan Miller got a piece of it, but he managed only to redirect it into the slot. Ward was right there to swat it past Miller to tie the game. He would add an assist to put the Caps ahead when he circled in the Olympia corner with the puck, then found John Erskine at the left point. Erskine walked up the wall and flicked a harmless looking wrist shot that eluded Miller, giving the Caps a 2-1 lead on their way to a 3-2 win and Oates’ first win as head coach for the Caps.
Game to Forget… March 12th vs. Carolina. Joel Ward was on ice for 16 even strength goals against in the 2013 season. Three of them were recorded in the March 12th game against Carolina. Throw in the shorthanded goal Carolina scored into an empty net for which Ward was on the ice, and the minus-4 he recorded for this game was a career-worst. Add in that he took a high-sticking penalty and did not record a shot on goal, and this 4-0 Carolina win was a very forgettable game.
Post Season… Ward tied for the team lead in points in the seven-game series against the New York Rangers. He had one of the Caps’ two power play goals for the series. He tied for the team lead in shooting percentage (12.5 percent). Normally, one might think he had a prolific performance. But a 1-3-4 scoring line in seven games is fine for a third liner. It is not a scoring line that should have been tied for second on the team in goals (tied with nine other players), or tied for the top spot in assists, or tied in total points. The other side of that coin is that he was on ice for more even strength goals against than any Caps forward except Jay Beagle. All five goals against for which Ward was on the ice came in Caps’ losses in the series.
In the end…
There was good and not so good in Joel Ward’s season. There was the fast start, and there was the long drought. There was the rugged play in hard areas of the ice that prevented a lot of scoring, but he was one of a number of Caps who could not replicate that performance in the post-season. He did not have the wild ups and downs (ok, up and down) in the playoffs that he experienced last season, but he did not distinguish himself in this year’s post season, either. And on that basis, evaluating his season is not a process given to simplicity. One cannot help but think, though, that it just did not quite fit together.
Photo: Greg Fiume/Getty Images North America